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Eight Kentucky high schools, one full-contact spectator sport: combat robotics.

Student-built robots prepare to battle in the arena.
Newton's Attic
Student-built robots prepare to battle in the arena.

Student engineers take to the ring for the Robot Gladiator League Championship.

Starting at 9 Tuesday morning, cheering crowds in Morehead's Laughlin Building will greet eight robot fighters - metal boxes which sit low to the ground, equipped with spinning blades, battering rams, and whatever else students hope might give them an edge.

Robot Gladiator League (RGL) is a joint project of Newton's Attic, a Lexington-based organization dedicated to hands-on and immersive learning, and Morehead State University's Center for STEM+eXcellence, which offers science and engineering programs to K-12 students across the state.

Keith Hollifield, Chief Toy Maker at Newton's Attic, says RGL helps students develop essential STEM skills like robotics technology, fabrication, machining, welding, and electronics assembly. Students also have to learn to think on their feet.

"Unlike a lot of other STEM programs where you have a set challenge," says Hollifield, "this is a competition against live opponents who are changing their strategy based on your strategy in real time."

Hollifield says RGL is a STEM-based team sport designed from day one to excite both participants and spectators. Matches are complete with lights, lasers, and high-energy sports commentary.

Today's championship consists of seven single elimination matches.

Initial Rounds

9 AM - West Carter County vs Rowan County
10 AM - Jackson Independent vs Eminence Independent
11 AM - Sphinx Academy vs Russell County
12 PM - Nelson County vs BMW Academy

Semifinal Matches

1 PM - Winner of 10 AM vs Winner of 9 AM
2 PM - Winner of 12 PM vs Winner of 11 AM

The Championship match begins at 4.

Next season, eight more teams will join the league, with the aim of eventually becoming a statewide program. Applications to join the program, with one slot still open for next season, are up at rglhub.com.